Some people know the moment they begin a race that it’s going to be their day. Sunday was not that way for me. Don’t get me wrong – I felt good for most of the first 18-20 miles. BUT, I’ve run NYC three times before. I know how tough the late hills can be. How much the early hills beat up your legs and leave you exhausted by the end. And I was exhausted. The last 4-5 miles were plain torture. Every part of my body hurting. But that’s why we do those hard runs in training. To keep pushing. I refused to let my mind celebrate or even consider what could happen until all of the hills were behind me and I was in the Park and a mile or so from the finish.
It has been a year since I was able to truly race a marathon from start to finish (Boston was supposed to be that way but after stopping at mile 15/16 in the med tent, the “race” was over – it became more of a run to the finish). And the truth is, your mind forgets the amount of pain that your body experiences during the later miles. At least mine does. You know there will be pain but it’s hard to explain or recall the true level of pain you feel when you are 22 miles in. Legs screaming. Feet on fire. Calves hurting. You just want to stop running and sit down. But you know you need to continue to push.
I think it’s a lot easier to keep your foot on the gas when it’s a good race and there’s a shiny new PR still dangling in front of you. You find that last gear. That last tiny bit of energy that you didn’t know was there. That’s what it was like for me on a Sunday. Although I didn’t really know what time was possible until a couple of miles out, I knew I was having a good race and a fast time (for me) was still possible.
Before we get to that point, let’s rewind to the days leading up to the race. I think this was my best race week to date. I felt rested. Recovered. Excited. I was getting plenty of sleep. Falling asleep easily at 8:30pm each night. Waking up at 415/430 rested and without an alarm. I felt GOOD. I was eating well. Drinking a ton of water. I didn’t feel bloated or like I had gained weight from the drop in mileage and intensity. Everything was clicking. I felt ready.
I think subconsciously I knew it was going to be a good day. I was really emotional all week. Not stressed or worried. But just excited. I cried countless times throughout the week – hearing a song, driving to work, getting an email, imagining the race. I’d think about race day and tear up with happiness.
I’m a pretty superstitious person and I felt like this race just reinforced that. First, after the 2015 Wineglass Marathon, my husband bought me two of the stemless wine glasses (at the finish after I set my previous PR). They have been my favorite wine glasses since. Well the week of the marathon, one of the glasses fell and shattered into a hundred pieces. At first, I was devastated. But then I realized maybe it was the universe’s way of telling me a new glass needed to be used in its place. Second, my race bib was my youngest sister’s birthday (Aug 15 – 815). Third, my finish time is my mom’s birthday (Mar 7 – 307). =)
My runs were good during race week. Not entirely effortless or too springy. But also not anything alarming. I had two planned rest days – Monday and Friday and ran between 3-6 miles on the other days. Wednesday was a mini-workout to keep legs turning over: 2 up, 5 x 1000m (~4:00 min) @ 6:40 pace (with 2:00 recovery). Paces were there but I remember feeling like I was more out of breath than I wanted to be. But I knew it was probably the taper crazies.
I will talk about the rest of race week in another post (expo, lunch with some amazing friends on Friday, weekend with Gina).
I didn’t carbo-load a ton. Starting Thursday evening, I began to cut out veggies and eat more potatoes at dinner (steak + potato) – I ate the same thing Friday evening. Breakfast and lunch stayed the same for those days as well. I still continued my glass of wine each night – even the night before the race. I didn’t want to do anything differently than I had done all training cycle.
Saturday is when I started to really eat more carbs – breakfast was a bagel, lunch was a turkey sandwich on a bagel and dinner was spaghetti with grilled chicken.
– 1.25 bagels
– 2 big scoops of Generation UCan + water
– 4x Gu chomps at the start line (about 10 min before gun went off)
– 3/4 (or so) gel every 30 min (roughly at 4, 8, 13, 17, 21 mile marks)
– Alternated water and gatorade starting at mile 3 (first aid station) and continuing to mile 23.
The boys were up at 4:30am (thanks to Daylight Savings) so the morning started off a touch earlier than I would have liked! Coffee at 5am while playing with them in our playroom for a bit before starting to get ready around 6am.
Straightened my hair, put on some makeup and starting eating my bagel (these are monster size NYC bagels).
Paul and the boys drove me, Gina and my friend, Danielle, to the start. We left around 7:40 and we’re dropped off a block from security at 8:10. Easy peasy – one of the benefits of living on Staten Island!
I cried saying goodbye to the boys and then again 10 min later when I parted ways with Danielle and Gina. Emotional wreck!
The local competitive wave had some awesome perks – we had our own fenced in area with coffee, bagels, port-o-potties. And we were feet from the bridge.
And this is where I got to meet up with Anoush!!! I was so SO pumped we were both in this wave. We spent the rest of the morning together – laughing, joking, talking about poop – kept the mood light and as calm as possible.
Before I knew it, we were called to the exit to line up. Omg. It was time. The nervous energy sky-rocketed but being with Anoush and some of her friends made it so much easier. This was really when I was like “oh shoot. I’m really gonna run a marathon.”
We were on the lower level of the bridge – and stayed there maybe 30 min or so before it was time to run. 5 min before the start I ditched my sweats and took some chomps with water. And then it was go time.
Race (*Note: all paces listed below are from my watch – race times are a bit different)
Mary’s plan had me starting conservative – to treat the first five miles almost like a warmup for a tempo (albeit a bit faster). Although I’ve had success in recent races with not seeing pace, I decided to keep the Garmin display on the pace screen – I wanted to see my pace to start – to keep me honest and not go out too fast. The first mile of the race is straight uphill – maybe 150-200 feet of gain. My Garmin was showing my pace to be close to 8:45 for a bit. I didn’t know if GPS had gone out but I decided to not stress about the pace and run on effort. I felt like I was pushing hard enough during that first mile regardless of how much slower I was than the prescribed paces from Mary. It was extremely windy – and my mind started freaking out. Winds were 15 or so mph coming from the north – we run in a northerly direction for most of the race and I tried to not panic that the whole race would be a fight with the headwind. People were flying by me at this point and it took so much self control to keep my pace where it was. I’m glad I did – hit the 1 mile mark at 7:25. Perfect. Exactly where I wanted it to be. Spoiler alert: THAT was my slowest mile of the day!!! #Boom.
Mile 2 was a mile straight down the bridge we just climbed. Steady effort. “Don’t be dumb, Michele.” Mile 2: 6:44. Really fast but it was a straight downhill and I had held back the whole way, so told myself I was still following Mary’s plan.
Now time to focus on Brooklyn!
And then I saw the best surprise – which caused me to cry again. My aunt, uncle, cousins and extended family were out IN FORCE. Balloons, cameras, screams. Those were the first cheers we heard coming off the bridge – and they were for me. I was so proud. So happy. So grateful. Aunt Marilyn and Uncle John – you are the best – I love you!!!
Anoush and I flip flopped a couple of times for the next 3-4 miles. We had similar pace goals for the first bit of the race but we planned to just run our own race and not feel like we had to stay with each other. We’d run next to each other for a bit then one of us would pick up pace and the other would stay back. It was so much fun to share these miles with her. We joked that “Friends don’t let friends start too fast” a lot during those miles because we’d look down and see a 7:00 pace and yell at the other to slow down. At some point during those miles, I turned to her and said “Today’s a really good day for a F-ing PR”. She responded with “It’s a really F-ing good day.” Nope. We weren’t pumped up at all. Miles 3-5: 7:14, 7:11, 7:13
For Miles 6-13.1, Mary wanted me to pick up the pace just a touch. But effort should still be a bit holding back. This is where I found my rhythm and just watched the miles started to tick off. I focused on stride, breathing, effort, hydration and fueling – all the important things early in the race.
Brooklyn was crazy – especially around mile 8/9 when all three corrals merged. It was a party and we were the special guest appearances. Miles 6-10: 7:07, 7:07, 7:07, 7:04 7:00.
The roughest patch during the first half was around mile 10/11. It’s a gradual uphill for about 1/2 mile and was the first time I saw my pace slow and felt that I would be forcing the pace if I tried to bring it down. I began to question what I was doing. I spent several minutes almost convincing myself that maybe marathons were not for me – that maybe I should stick to half marathons and 10 milers since I seem to fare better. This is always a tough part in a race. You have crossed into double digits which sounds so far – but you still have 15-16+ miles left which sounds even further. I managed to pull myself out of that down patch. But wow. It got dark there for a while and was still so early in the race. Mile 11: 7:16
The next couple of miles were back to happiness and feeling strong. I started to break the race into smaller pieces here. Get to the half. Then gotta get up that bridge. Then it’s a 10 mile race. Miles 12-13: 6:55, 7:00.
Mile 12.8-13.3 is going up the Pulaski Bridge from Brooklyn to Queens. I was up the bridge and over the incline and didn’t even flinch. It felt almost effortless. Everything felt SO consistent and smooth. This is where Mary told me to do a body check. Legs: good. Feet: no blisters or hot spots. Breathing: under control.
After the bridge, we had a couple of turns and this is where I spotted Kristin who yelled at me to go take the bridge and the Laura and Heather who were screaming their heads off for me. May have gotten a little carried away here. Whoops. Mile 14: 6:55.
Shortly after mile 14, we made the left and there was the Queensboro. I feel like this is the first indication in this race of whether you went out too fast. It’s one full mile straight up hill – from mile 14.5-15.5. I switched my garmin to only see the time of day. No need to worry about pace here. Mission was to get up and over and feel good.
Immediately, I felt like others were slowing down. One guy next to me looked strong and still had a really good turnover so I made it my mission to hang with him. After a couple of minutes of climbing, I introduced myself and asked if he would mind if I just hung on his heels. He smiled and told me to hop on. So we climbed. And flew. Up up up. I felt freaking good. Slightly out of breath and definitely working but really in control and strong. I loved this section. It was quiet. No spectators. No cheers. Just the sound of our feet and our breathing.
Then we were at the top and I saw the downhill ahead. And we kept flying. And then came the goosebumps. The screams were faint at first but grew louder as we approached the exit to the bridge and the 16 mile mark. Came off the bridge and I yelled to him “just a 10 mile race now.” Miles 15-16: 7:13, 7:09
Mary had told me that once I get onto first avenue to run hard for one minute – to get all the excitement out and then settle back into a good rhythm. So that’s what I did. I came off the bridge like a bat out of hell and screamed, smiled and ran with my hands up in celebration before getting back to business.
First avenue is nothing short of amazing. And it’s SO hard to not get carried away here. But, 10 miles is still SO far. Then next three miles were amazing and went by so fast. At one point, I looked up and realized we were already at 110th street!! Looking back, they were a touch fast. But at the time, they seemed slower. Especially since there was a really strong headwind here. First avenue is really wide and by this point in the race, the road wasn’t very crowded at all – so it was hard to find runners to duck behind. Despite all that, I managed three sub-7 miles here. Miles 17-19: 6:53, 6:54, 6:53
Then it was time to run out of the city and into the Bronx! I knew I had three more inclines before the Park and the first would be at a crucial part – mile 19.5 as we headed into the Bronx. I ran right up the bridge and still felt GOOD.
In the Bronx. We made a turn and I felt like the wind hit me in the face. Mile 20 was hard – mentally and physically. Looked up as we came to the 135th street bridge and approaching mile 21 and saw a sign on the bridge that said “This is Mile 20. Run through that wall” and for the first time felt really tired. Miles 20-21: 7:04, 7:14.
I took a gel right before mile 21 despite feeling very nauseous. I figured I’d rather deal with some nausea than bonk from not enough calories. The upset stomach didn’t help with the demons starting to creep in. This is a tough part of the race. You just came back into the city and mentally feel like you are there so close to the park – but you still have 5 miles left until finish!!
But that’s when Mary appeared – she was my angel standing on the side of the road – jacket tied around waist, ready to run. We chatted for a bit – told her I was tired and nauseous and felt like I needed to slow down. She didn’t respond. She caught me checking my watch and told me to stop – that pace is no longer important. That I needed to run with heart and not worry about pace. After the next water point, she told me goodbye and sent me on my way.
Now that I was alone again, I felt empowered. Like she had given me this shot of adrenaline. I was ready to fight for my PR. Everything hurt. But I kept repeating to myself that this is what I train for. This moment. It was kind of surreal to be in so much pain and yet to still be running so consistently. Each time I looked down and saw my pace, I was amazed. Miles 22-23: 7:09, 7:09.
Then it was time to climb again. The hill along 5th is not huge. But it’s a gradual hill for one mile – and it’s at mile 23 of a marathon, so it really feels like a mountain. I switched the display on my watch to allow myself to just run with no concept of pace. The spectators were out in force here and I heard my name over and over and over again. Mile 23: 7:25
I reached the top of that hill and was so tired. BUT, there was the entrance to the Park!! And then I was in the park. I fought back the tears again here. I was so close but with 2 miles left, I knew it was still a long way to go. The energy in the park was indescribable. Spectators were 3 to 4 deep along the left hand of the course, screaming, cowbelling. I soaked it all in here and let the crowd work their magic.
I told myself to get up that last hill. The steep, annoying hill just beyond 72nd street. First it was down cat hill…by the boat house. And then up the hill. Along the way, I saw Jen! She was participating in the Foot Locker 5 Borough Challenge and started before any of the waves. We had calculated that if we were both running the race we hoped, I’d pass her somewhere around mile 24. And that’s almost exactly where it happened. I screamed her name as I ran by – we waved, blew kisses and both continued to fight for our races. Mile 24: 7:02
After passing mile 25, I saw Laura and Heather again – going bonkers for me. This was the moment when I realized the race was mine. That I did it. I remember looking over at Laura and putting out my hands in a “I can’t believe I did it” kind of way.
The last mile along Central park south was tough. There was a nasty headwind again and I had no one to duck behind. But I could feel the finish pulling me in.
Hearing the announcer. Seeing the finish.
Crossing that finish line. Mile 26.4: 6:54 pace
Official Time: 3:07:01
Official Pace: 7:08 min/mile
Garmin pace: 7:05 min/mile (26.4 miles)
108th female (out of 21,500)
16th in AG (F 35-39)
I am in shock with how consistent my splits were from mile 1 all the way to the finish.
– Slowest two miles were 1 and 24 (5th Avenue hill) – 7:25
– Next slowest mile was mile 11 – 7:16
– Fast mile: Mile 2 – 6:44
– 6 miles were under 7:00 pace (miles 2, 12, 14, 17, 18, 19)
– Most of the other miles were low 7s to 7:09
– 1st 13.1: 1:33:45
– 2nd 13.1: 1:33:16
After crossing the finish, I saw my friend Janine from Foot Locker and then Amy Freeze!! While chatting with them, I then saw Jen finish! It was amazing to see her crush her PR by 17 minutes! (You can read about her race here).
Just wanted to thank everyone again – I felt so much love and support leading up to the race and the amount after is indescribable. And thank you to all the spectators who came out on Sunday and cheered for us all – you are what makes the NYC Marathon so special.
Note: I plan to do a post on my training leading up to this race soon!